In the not-so-distant smoothbore days of slug shooting, people bragged about shotguns that could hit a 5-gallon milk can at 100 yards. Now, shooters brag about shotguns that could hit a shot glass at the same distance.
The American Slug Shooting Association (slugshooting.com) does more than talk tight groups. Its members compete every month, pushing the envelope of slug performance. The format is simple: Shoot from a bench at 100 yards. The tightest five-shot group wins. The current 100-yard record stands at an astounding .787 inch; the world is full of centerfire rifles that don't group as well as that.
Because serious slug shooters are like wild pandas--scattered so widely that they rarely see one another--the ASSA holds postal matches, allowing shooters to compete by sending in targets for scoring. ASSA president Bill Davis has scored a lot of targets in the six years of the group's existence, and has learned plenty that can help you be a better slug shooter, whether your target is paper or protein.
Guns and Loads
When ASSA shooters submit targets, they specify which gun, ammunition, and sights they used. Here's what performs well for them:
Guns and Barrels: The NEF Ultra Slug Hunter is a favorite. This accurate and inexpensive single-shot features a stiff, heavy barrel and a solid lockup. It comes in 12 and 20 gauge. A Hastings rifled barrel on an 870 or 1100 is also a popular choice.
Scopes: Nikon and Sightron scopes prove most capable of withstanding slug recoil. Many shooters choose 3X-9X scopes; some favor high-powered varmint scopes. That record .787-inch group, however, was shot with an Aimpoint red dot and no magnification.
Slugs: Hastings Laser Accurate Slugs are top performers, but Davis says shooters shouldn't get hung up on a particular brand of ammunition. "Many slug guns are inexpensive and not precision-built, so they vary. Three different Mossberg 500s might like three different brands of slugs."
Davis does recommend premium ammunition. "Premium slugs perform consistently," he says. "We've chronographed some inexpensive sabots and seen variations in velocity from 300 to 500 fps in the same box."
Match the slug to the gun: The faster the slug, the faster the rifling twist you need to stabilize it. Slugs in the 1200- to 1500-fps range work best from a slower twist rate such as 1 in 34 inches. Faster 1900- to 2000-fps slugs perform better through a 1-in-30 barrel.
The gear is only half the equation. "We use five-shot groups in our competitions. Three shots show what the gun and slug can do. Five shots show that the shooter knows what he's doing, too," says Davis. Here are his tips:
Get a Grip: Rest the front part of the fore-end and the barrel on the sandbags. Your front hand goes on top of the barrel to hold it down; your trigger hand pulls the gun firmly back into your shoulder. If the gun has iron sights that don't permit a top-down hold, grasp it firmly by the fore-end and pull down to keep the muzzle from rising while the slug is still in the barrel.
Plant the Flag: "Shooting slugs is like firing beer cans. The wind can move them quite a bit," says Davis. If your range doesn't have flags, stick surveyor's flags in the ground. In a crosswind, you might have to hold 3 to 4 inches off the target to compensate.
Live With Recoil: "We see lots of targets with three shots together and two about 6 inches high. Shooters say the barrel fouled. We say you flinched," says Davis. "There's no easy answer. You have to toughen up." Many competitors install a Dead Mule recoil reducer (a heavy cylinder that fits into the stock; 100straight.com) and add a soft aftermarket recoil pad. An increasing number shoot 20-gauges. Davis cautions that a sled-type rest isn't the solution: If a gun can't move freely under recoil, you can damage some optics.
Keep It Clean: You should clean your barrel after every 10 to 20 shots with lead slugs, every 30 to 40 shots with sabots.
Between 50 and 100 members submit targets every month. You buy the competition targets for $3 apiece, which entitles you to a free annual membership. In the ASSA's Ultra Slug Hunter Challenge, competitors submit one target a month for a year, with the winner receiving a gun.
Targets must be witnessed by a rangemaster to verify they were shot at the regulation distance--50 yards for smoothbores, 100 for rifled barrels. Groups are measured from the outside edges of the farthest holes, then the slug's diameter is subtracted. To give you an idea of the groups to beat and what performs, here are some 100-yard results:
Record: Mike Kingston, Arkansas, 12-gauge Remington 870, Hastings rifled barrel, Aimpoint red-dot scope, Hastings 3-inch Laser Accurate Sabot slugs: .787 inch
Professional Division: Mike Kingston, Arkansas, 12-gauge Remington 870, Hastings rifled barrel, Aimpoint red-dot scope, Hastings 3-inch Laser Accurate Sabot slugs: 1.235 inches
Hunter Division: Jason Kempenich, Pennsylvania, 12-gauge Marlin 512 Slugmaster, Sightron S1 scope, Remington 23⁄4-inch Core-Lokt Ultra slugs: 2.125 inches
ASSA-NRA SUMMER SHOOT
Professional Division: "One and Done," Pennsylvania, 12-gauge Remington 1100, Hastings rifled barrel, Leupold 2-7x33 scope, Hastings 23⁄4-inch Laser Sabot slugs: 1.860 inches
Hunter Division: "Slugger Two," Georgia, 12-gauge NEF Ultra Slug Hunter, Bushnell 6-18x50 scope, STI reloaded sabot: 2.625 inches
To see how my slug shooting compares, I shot a competition target with a 20-gauge NEF Ultra Slug Hunter, a Bushnell Elite 3200 1.5X-4.5X scope, and Remington Premier Accutip Bonded Sabots. With a padded gun case between the butt and my shoulder and my front hand holding the barrel down, I hardly felt the gun go off. My best five-shot, 100-yard group measured a very respectable 2.489 inches on a gusty morning.
Never a patient person, I didn't give the barrel much time to cool. I'm already thinking that next month I can do better.
TIP OF THE MONTH: DON'T LET THE BEAD BEAT YOU
I have written before on the evils of mounting a shotgun too quickly, as if it were a quick-draw contest between you and the bird. Here's another reason why you'll hit more targets if you slow your gun mount: Your eye automatically focuses on the fastest-moving object it can see. If you throw the gun to your face as fast as you can, your eye will be drawn unavoidably to the bead. When you look at the bead, the gun stops, and you miss behind, even though you were hurrying to shoot ahead of the target.
Prove this to yourself at home. Take a gun you know to be unloaded, focus on an object across the room, and mount the gun quickly. The bead will pop into your vision like a jack-in-the-box. Now try it again, moving the gun verrrry slowly, and you'll be able to maintain your focus on the target.--P.B.